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Burundi to Consider Summit Request for Election Delay

FILE - Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete speaks at the extra-ordinary East African Community summit on the Burundi crisis at the State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, May 13, 2015.

A spokesman for Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza said the government is open to the proposal made by leaders of the East African Community (EAC) to delay elections for at least six weeks.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gervais Abayeho said the Burundian Electoral Commission, in collaboration with political parties, will consider the EAC request and come up with a proposal for the government to consider.

In a statement issued Sunday following an emergency regional summit in Dar es Salaam, the East African leaders also called "on all parties to stop the violence" and create "conditions for the return of refugees" who have fled political violence.

Abayeho said that while the government is open to the EAC proposal, any changes must remain within the limit set by the Burundi’s constitution which mandates that the president-elect be sworn in by August 26. He said the country does not want a situation where a political vacuum occurs.

“First of all, the government appreciates the position of the summit that elections must take place in Burundi, contrary to what opposition parties and some civil society organizations have been saying that conditions are not conducive for elections,” he said.

Abayeho said the electoral commission will now take up the proposal made by the East African leaders.

“As regards the postponement as requested by the summit, the electoral commission with all political parties and other stakeholders will look into the matter and come up with a proposal that will be submitted to the government,” Abayeho said.

He said whatever decision is made must take into consideration Burundi’s constitution which mandates that the president-elect be sworn in by August 26.

“What the world must know is that the electoral calendar should remain within the limit set by the constitution because the president-elect must be sworn in on the 26th of August. Otherwise, going beyond this schedule could lead to a kind of political vacuum and this is what the government will not like to see happen,” Abayeho said.

Local and parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held June 5, while the presidential election is scheduled for June 26.

Abayeho said this makes the EAC request for postponement more urgent. He said he believes the government and the electoral commission will get together this week to look into the matter.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders Sunday called on protesters to return to the streets Monday, saying they were disappointed that EAC summit did not demand Nkurunziza drop his decision to run for a third term.

The president's critics say a third term would violate the constitution. But his supporters say he is eligible to run because parliament, not voters, elected him to his first term in 2005.

The East African leaders also called on all parties to disarm all youth groups and stop the violence to create "conditions for the return of refugees" who have fled political violence.

The opposition has been complaining about what it called the “militarization of the ruling CNDD-FDD party’s youth wing” known as Imbonerakure and accused the government of supporting the violence. He said the protesters are also to blame for the violence, particularly against police officers.

Nkurunziza did not attend Sunday’s emergency meeting in Dar es Salaam. During his last trip to Tanzania last month, a coup attempt was launched against him. Abayeho said that had nothing to do with the president’s decision.

“Even countries like Somalia, which is facing insurrection by al-Shabab, or a country like Nigeria with the Boko Haram insurrection, the presidents of those countries do go out of those countries for even several days. So, if the president did not attend the summit, it means he had another agenda to attend to,” Abayeho said.

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